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'Aftersun' follows a father and daughter's last summer vacation together


Nothing very much happens in the new film "Aftersun" - just life, mundane moments that become indelible memories of a young father, Calum, and his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, on vacation at a standard-issue tourist resort in Turkey during the age of the Macarena, as we see the replays of scraps and snapshots of conversation.


PAUL MESCAL: (As Calum) You know, I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything as you get older, you know? - whatever parties you to go to, boys you meet, drugs you take.

FRANKIE CORIO: (As Sophie) Dad.

MESCAL: (As Calum) No, I'm serious, Soph. Done it all, and you can, too. I just want you to promise me that you'll talk to me about it, OK?

CORIO: (As Sophie) OK.

SIMON: The film stars Paul Mescal as the father, Frankie Corio as Sophie. And Charlotte Wells, the writer and director of one of the most acclaimed films of the year, thank you so much for being with us.

CHARLOTTE WELLS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: The story begins, and not much of the backstory is filled in. Why?

WELLS: I think, over the course of the film, there is a fair amount of backstory that's very subtly and gradually revealed to the audience. But, I think, in many ways this film for me is about an accumulation, an accumulation of information, an accumulation of shared experience and feeling that builds to something.

SIMON: First, we infer, and then we learn that the father and mother are apart, but that's taken as a fact of life, not the cause of a crisis in the film. What made you want to tell the story of a father and a daughter?

WELLS: I mean, it's true that it's very much inspired by my own experiences with my dad growing up, going on holidays and being mistaken as siblings, which he was not as quick to correct as Calum is in the film. And although the film is certainly fiction, and I was not on this holiday, and these sequences of events did not take place, the start point was my relationship with my dad. And I think the film is ultimately an expression of grief, and that grief is my own.

SIMON: Grief about what?

WELLS: In my mind, this is the last time that they spend together. And that is certainly kind of derived from experience.

SIMON: Yeah. At one point, Sophie loses her diving mask.


SIMON: It becomes a plot point. She apologizes and says, I know it's expensive. And the father seems to blanch. I think I know why, but help us out.

WELLS: So he throws her the mask in the water. She doesn't see it. And we have a scene of him reaching under the water for the mask, kind of swimming toward camera and grasping for it but it remaining just beyond his reach. And the camera, for a moment, takes the point of view almost of the mask sinking to the bottom of the sea. And I think that moment in many ways represents Calum's eternal search for something that he can't quite take hold of. And so when they're back above the surface on the boat, it is a point of contention. And from Sophie's point of view, it's this moment where he's upset, and she kind of tries to find her way back to him. But I think, for him, it's representative of something more, and so he retreats somewhat inside of himself in that moment.

SIMON: I hope you accept this as the compliment it is intended to be. I loved so many moments in the film that show us the peculiar intimacy of people who are able to be bored together.

WELLS: Yeah. I was interested in the repetition of holidays, of the same images recurring, whether it's paragliders in the sky or breakfast on the table in the morning. Boredom is certainly a big part of those experiences. And there's this day where they just keep missing each other and can't quite sync up. I think it's also somewhat relevant to these sequences of MiniDV footage that recur through the film, which don't represent boredom per se but also do have a type of banality to them, I suppose, a capturing of the everyday, nothing too momentous, but things that you treasure nonetheless when you look back at them.

SIMON: There's a moment I absolutely broke down sobbing where the father says to his daughter, once you leave where you grew up, you don't totally belong there again. You never know where you'll end up. Be whoever you want to be. There's time. Oh, my. You heard that speech?

WELLS: Did I hear that speech? No. I'm not sure I heard that speech. I think that's coming from within me more than it was coming from my dad. I think I'm a person who left the place that I'm from. When I was 18 or 19, I left Scotland, and I spent a lot of time there, but I've never lived there again. And yet it's a place I carry within me. It's a place that formed, in many ways, who I am. But I think those words are somewhat mine, yes.

SIMON: May I ask - totally personal - about your relationship with your father?

WELLS: You can try.

SIMON: Is he still with us? Has he seen the film?

WELLS: No. He's not still with us. I think that is, for me, in many ways what the film is about.

SIMON: It has often been observed by wise artists and people that life is in the small moments, not the big, dramatic ones. But is it hard to make a film that way?

WELLS: Not for me - that's where my interest lies. I don't think I'm unique in that. I'm interested in the small moments, in gestures, in moments of connection, moments of separation. I love watching people think on camera, seeing people work through something internally. It's not always easy to determine how to dramatize feelings, things that are internal, internal experiences. But sometimes, I'm very content just to sit and watch people in life and on screen.

SIMON: Yeah. Charlotte Wells has written and directed her first film to much praise. It's called "Aftersun." Thank you so much for being with us.

WELLS: Thanks so much. It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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